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ASK MERRILY/Caretaker’s Job

Merrily Preston
By Merrily Preston
Posted on Feb 22,2010
Filed Under Personal Development , Opinions,

Photo by FLICKR/bigcrow/4248799597/<br /> <br />
Photo by FLICKR/bigcrow/4248799597/
"I believe this is the last photo taken of my father," writes the photographer,
Anna L. Conti, about her father, James T. Lusk (1930-2009). "It's a cell
phone photo, taken by his caretaker on a walk about the grounds of the
Wesley nursing home in Saratoga Springs, New York."

ALEXANDRIA, VA. - My husband has been recovering for almost a month from life-changing surgery.  Things in the ICU are much the same day after day.  Relentless issues continue such as excessive fluid retention, elevated white blood count, fluid from chest tubes.  He was happy to finally be allowed clear fluids.  But those have temporarily been taken away in hopes of resolving the above issues.  He is recovering from the surgery well - it's just all these other annoyances.  My prediction is at least another week to sort it all out.   He’s quite down in the ready to have all this behind him. My job now is to cheer him up, keep him looking forward, and remind him how far he has come.  But it's so hard for him.  It’s hard for me too and I am tired.   

Dear Tired,

Your job is to cheer him up?  
No, no, no.  Your job is to be with him as he is – cheerful, down in the dumps, angry, tired,

There are times when your husband doesn’t want to be cheered up.  This ordeal is hard for him.  He has to adjust to a major change in his body and endure a cumbersome recovery on top of that.  He is ready to wake up from a bad dream and go on with his life.  But this dream is his reality.  He is entitled to be down in the dumps.  Your job is to validate his feelings, not to take them away.  

Being present with him as-he-is is a quiet, rewarding experience, which creates space for him to process all of his feelings.  His emotional recovery is as important and as challenging as the physical.  Your job is to honor this process.

Enlist help in staying centered.  His feelings may resonate with feelings of your own that are uncomfortable.  You could do emotional processing yourself as you spend time with him in his recovery.      

You have done an excellent job of mirroring back to him how far he has come.  Continue to point out concrete examples of recovery, to be supportive, to care, to nudge him forward.

Be yourself.  There is a time to be cheerful and a time to be sad.  

Merrily Preston is an Intentional Life Facilitator, who lives in Woodbridge. Her column is exclusive to Local Kicks. Email questions to, or use online form at

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